Divorce is hard. It’s especially hard when you have kids. I have two boys, ages eleven and thirteen, and I am divorced from their father. We divorced when the boys were very young- my thirteen-year-old barely remembers us together, and my eleven-year-old does not.

After a very trying time in our marriage, family tragedies/deaths, and a miscarriage, neither my husband at the time nor I were ourselves. As individuals we were shattered, and as a couple, we were damaged beyond repair.

I have and will always take most of the blame for our marriage falling apart. After I lost my father, lost our first baby due to miscarriage two weeks after my dad’s death, lost an aunt and my grandfather, then lost my father-in-law about a year later, I wasn’t able to function normally. I couldn’t work, couldn’t concentrate. Most days I was lucky if I could get out of bed and take a shower, let alone be a good wife and mother. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for a caring and dedicated counselor, a psychiatrist, and a supply of anti-depressants, I don’t think I would have made it through that time in my life.

I had two small babies to care for, so I did the best I could. I know that my best during that time wasn’t enough. I did and said things I regret, I gave up on my husband and my marriage, and the guilt I have felt since has been overwhelming. It’s taken a lot of soul-searching, hours of counseling, and plenty of self-punishment to finally walk down the road to forgiveness. I’m not quite at the end of that road yet, but I’m hoping that one day I will be.

As with any marriage, both my ex and I made mistakes. We both did stupid things, we both made each other cry, we both hurt ourselves and our children. But, one day we both woke up and realized that it was time to put our children first, and put our differences aside.

We did decide to divorce, but we also decided to forgive. We took one look at the two most precious gifts we’d ever been given and we made a pact then and there- no matter how angry and hurt we were, we decided to put the past behind us and move forward separately, but still somehow, in a way, together.

I debated moving back to my home state of Indiana with my children after the divorce because my mom and sister still lived there and I would have had their support in raising my kids as a single mother. But that thought didn’t last long. How could I rob my boys of spending time with their father? How selfish would it be for me to take the boys and only allow them to see their dad a couple times per month, some holidays, and a few weeks every summer? My ex also had a very large extended family, all in Michigan, where my children were born and lived. I didn’t feel right about not allowing my boys to grow up near so many aunts, uncles, cousins and a grandmother.

So we stayed put and we made a life in Michigan.

I won’t lie and say that every single step in the divorce process has been easy and without strife. We’ve gotten angry, but somehow we’ve always found a way to forgive and work together to raise our boys. I know there are times that I drive my ex-husband crazy, but he does not say a word about it to our boys. And when my ex says or does things that bother me, I keep it to myself.

It’s not as hard as you might think. I just take one look at my sons and I see all the good things they have inherited from their dad. My older son has his dad’s math skills, his height, his body shape, and coloring. In fact, he looks so much like my ex-husband, I sometimes can’t tell if the person in an old photo is my son or his dad. I tell my son how handsome he is and that he looks just like his father. The smile on his face when he hears those words from me is priceless.

My younger son has his dad’s mouth, and certain expressions he displays on his adorable little face remind me of his father. He likes to build things like his dad does, he also has some great math skills, and he’s left-handed, just like his dad. My younger son and I both agree that his left-handedness is part of what makes him so special.

So when I take a look at those boys, the two people in the world I love more than anyone or anything, it’s not hard to speak highly of their father because they are a part of him. To talk badly about their father would be as if I was talking badly about them, and I will never do that.

A few years after my divorce, my boys and I were very lucky to find a man who fell in love with us, and with whom we love, too. He is a wonderful husband to me and a terrific step-father for my boys. I truly believe he loves my boys just as if they were his own biological children. He treats them fairly, spends quality time with them, disciplines them when it’s needed, and, most importantly, he loves and respects their mother. I’m truly blessed to know that my boys look up to my husband and want to be like him in many ways.

Of course it isn’t always roses and rainbows when you are re-married and have children. Both my boys still say that sometimes they wish their dad and I were still together. They love their step-dad very much, and they know they are very lucky, but still, it’s not abnormal that children would want their parents together. In fact, my younger son has said that it would be best if his dad, their step-dad, he and his brother, and I all lived together in one big house. Wouldn’t that be nice?

My advice to you is, if you are thinking about divorce and you have children, do everything possible to try to work it out. Talk with each other, be honest, be appreciative and supportive, and go to counseling. If you’ve tried everything, and it still doesn’t work, then proceed with caution, grace, and forgiveness.

Remember that at one time, you and your soon-to-be ex loved each other enough to make your child/ren. Remember that there were things about that person you once loved. Remember that you thought enough of that person to marry him or her and begin to make a life together.

I know that many circumstances are not all the same. No two divorces are the same. I realize that your situation could be completely different than mine was, so I understand that not everyone can just “forgive and forget”. I understand that sometimes, you don’t have any other choice but to leave and to not look back, and I know that there are circumstances in which it is impossible for two divorced parents to work together to raise their children. But if your situation is anything like mine was, and you can find it in your heart to forgive, I guarantee you it will be what is best for your kids.

I don’t always understand or agree with the choices my ex-husband makes, and I’m sure he feels exactly the same about me and my choices. But I know he loves our kids, and I know he always tries to do what is best for them. I also know, that deep down in his heart, he knows I am a good mother and that I will always put our boys first.

I have explained to my boys that I will always love their dad, no matter what. We may not live together, but I still love him and I always will. My husband knows this, too, and he accepts it with patience and love, and in a way, I think he respects me more because I am honest about how I feel. It’s certainly not easy to be the stepfather, and I’m sure there are times that my husband wishes he was the boys’ biological father, but he handles the role well, and I couldn’t respect him or love him more for this and so many other things he has done for my boys and me.

When my boys ask me why I will always love their dad, I don’t hesitate to let them know that despite all our differences, their father gave me the best gifts anyone could have ever given me. He gave me those two wonderful kids. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

As we all navigate through this difficult process together, my hope is that we will all always remember to put our boys first, and show them how important it is to respect and love the people closest to you, no matter how many differences you all might have. After all, we only have one chance to get this right, and to raise our boys into strong, capable, loving, gentle, intelligent, and giving adults who realize that everyone makes mistakes, and that although life isn’t perfect, it doesn’t have to be bad, and most of the time, everyone deserves to be forgiven.

Tammi Landry-Gilder

Tammi is an author, wife, mother and blogger who lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, with her husband, two sons, three dogs, and too many fish in a tank to count.